Right-wing Javier Milei sworn in as Argentina’s president

10 December 2023, 21:14

Argentina Milei Inauguration
Argentina Milei Inauguration. Picture: PA

The overwhelming victory of the self-declared ‘anarcho-capitalist’ in the August primaries sent shockwaves through the political landscape.

Right-wing economist Javier Milei was sworn in as Argentina’s president on Sunday and sought to prepare its public for drastic public spending cuts.

Mr Milei, 53, rose to fame on television with profanity-laden tirades against what he called the political caste. He won a congressional seat and then swiftly ran for president.

The overwhelming victory of the self-declared “anarcho-capitalist” in the August primaries sent shockwaves through the political landscape and upended the race.

Argentines disillusioned with the economic status quo — triple-digit inflation, four in 10 people in poverty, a plunging currency — proved receptive to an outsider’s ideas to remedy their woes and transform the nation.

Argentina Milei Inauguration
Argentina’s newly sworn-in President Javier Milei speaks outside the Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina (Gustavo Garello/AP)

He won the election’s November 19 second round decisively — and sent packing the Peronist political force that dominated Argentina for decades.

On Sunday morning, Mr Milei was sworn in inside the National Congress building, and outgoing President Alberto Fernandez placed the presidential sash upon him. Some of the assembled politicians chanted “Liberty!”.

In his inaugural address to thousands of supporters in the capital, Buenos Aires, he said: “We don’t have alternatives and we don’t have time. We don’t have margin for sterile discussions. Our country demands action, and immediate action. The political class left the country at the brink of its biggest crisis in history.

“We don’t desire the hard decisions that will be need to be made in coming weeks, but lamentably they didn’t leave us any option.”

But he promised the adjustment would almost entirely affect the state rather than the private sector, and that it represented the first step toward regaining prosperity.

“We know that in the short term the situation will worsen, but soon we will see the fruits of our effort, having created the base for solid and sustainable growth,” he said.

As a candidate, Mr Milei pledged to purge the political establishment of corruption, eliminate the Central Bank he has accused of printing money and fuelling inflation, and replace the rapidly depreciating peso with the US dollar.

But after winning, he tapped Luis Caputo, a former Central Bank president, to be his economy minister and one of Mr Caputo’s allies to head the bank, appearing to have put his much-touted plans for dollarisation on hold.

Mr Milei had cast himself as a willing warrior against the creep of global socialism, much like former US President Donald Trump, whom he openly admires. But when Mr Milei travelled to the US last week, he did not visit Mar-a-Lago but took lunch with another former US leader, Bill Clinton.

Argentina Milei Inauguration
Javier Milei receives the presidential cane from outgoing President Alberto Fernandez at the Congress in Buenos Aires (Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

He also dispatched a diplomat with a long history of work in climate negotiations to the ongoing Cop28 conference in Dubai, Argentine newspaper La Nacion reported, despite having insistently rejected humanity’s involvement in global warming. And he backtracked on plans to scrap the nation’s health ministry.

His moderation may stem from pragmatism, given the scope of the immense challenge before him, his political inexperience and need to sow up alliances with other parties to implement his agenda in Congress, where his party is a distant third in number of seats held.

He chose Patricia Bullrich, a longtime politician and first-round adversary from the coalition with the second most seats, to be his security minister, as well as her running mate, Luis Petri, as his defence minister.

However, there are signs that Mr Milei has given up neither his defiance nor his radical plans to dismantle the state.

After his swearing-in, he intends to break tradition by delivering his inaugural address not to assembled politicians but to his supporters gathered outside the National Congress building — with his back turned to the legislature.

He was expected to refer to the economic travails he is inheriting from the outgoing president and to announce his first executive actions, including a drastic cut to public spending.

Argentina has a yawning fiscal deficit, a trade deficit of 43 billion dollars (£34 billion), plus a 45 billion-dollar (£36 billion) debt to the International Monetary Fund, with 10.6 billion dollars (£8.45 billion) due to the multilateral and private creditors by April.

“There’s no money,” is Mr Milei’s common refrain.

Already he has said he will eliminate multiple ministries, including those of culture, environment, women, and science and technology. He wants to meld the ministries of social development, labour and education together under a single ministry of human capital.

Argentina Milei Inauguration
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky embraces Javier Milei in Buenos Aires (Gustavo Garello/AP)

However, Mr Milei is likely to encounter fierce opposition from the Peronist movement’s MPs and the unions it controls, whose members have said they refuse to lose wages.

Following his inaugural address, Mr Milei plans to proceed in a convertible to the presidential palace and later meet foreign dignitaries.

Prominent far-right figures will be among them: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban; the head of Spain’s Vox party, Santiago Abascal; former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Bolsonaro-allied lawmakers, including his son.

Mr Milei reportedly sent a letter inviting Brazil’s current president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, after calling the leftist “obviously” corrupt last month during a televised interview and asserting that, if he became president, the two would not meet.

Brazil’s president dispatched his foreign minister to attend Mr Milei’s inauguration.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made his first visit to Latin America for the inauguration since Russia’s invasion of his country in February 2022.

Mr Milei welcomed Mr Zelensky at the presidential palace after his inauguration. The two shared an extended hug, exchanged words and then Mr Milei, who has said he intends to convert to Judaism, presented his Ukrainian counterpart with a menorah as a gift.

They were expected to have a longer one-on-one meeting later on Sunday.

By Press Association

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